** Disclaimer ** This is a fairly long post so you’ll need a nice cup of tea before you sit down and immerse yourself in one mama’s birthing journey.
Orlilami… you just took your first step… and I feel almost as incredible as I did when I first met you. So I think it’s finally about time to share the story of the day you were born.
I’d like to dedicate this post to the few friends of mine who are soon expecting to bring a little Soul into our world, and to every expectant mother out there preparing to meet the sweet baby they have been growing inside of them. The journey of birthing a baby is nothing short of empowering, incredible and entirely beautiful and I want to simply share that sentiment with all of you.
Orilami was born on a sunny Sunday in late September. But before taking you through the day on which he arrived, I first need to go back two days to a sunny Friday afternoon in September.
:: Friday ::
I had planned to visit my younger sister Mimi’s new place, and although I had an odd intuition and considered not going, the sun was shining and I felt full of energy so off I went with bump across London. We had a lovely stroll by the river and as we sat down to enjoy the fresh scones we had just baked to warm her new home, I had the waters-breaking-movie-scene that midwives tell you not to expect. I calmly told Mimi that I was fairly sure my waters had just broken, the excitement already rushing to my head…. Baby was coming… NOW!! The terrified look on Mimi’s housemate’s face had me reassuring her that I wouldn’t actually give birth on the floor of their living room, I still had a long way to go before baby arrived, but that I should probably be heading home now. We packed up the scones and made a few phones calls… I still can’t forget the alarm in my partner Seyi’s voice: “why are you calling me?? Call the midwife!”
Note to all expectant mothers: the rush hour tube is not the best place for a mama-to-be leaking copious amounts of liquid from her nether regions. But after a stop at the supermarket to pick up some labour supplies (baby or no baby, we’d need to eat, surely) that is exactly what I did… took the rush hour tube home, hoping all the while that there wasn’t going to be a puddle around me when I left the carriage!
I arrived home to a beautiful, serene flat. Seyi had cleaned, tidied, lit candles, had gentle music playing, incense burning and was ready to inflate our birthing pool (we rented on from here, and highly recommend). I explained that, actually, I wasn’t yet in labour so it’d probably be best to wait a while before we did that.
We had chosen to have a home birth and had rented a birthing pool after learning the benefits of warm water during labour. Although we didn’t go on a course, we had studied the Katherine Graves hypnobirthing method thanks to the lending of a book and cds by lovely friend and incredible independent midwife Kemi.
Hynobirthing resonated strongly with us because at its core is the belief that all women are capable of giving birth naturally, if they simply trust their bodies and trust their babies. We feel that the medicalisation of birth is unnecessary, which is why our home felt like the most natural place to bring our baby into the world. Peaceful, sacred, comfortable. I’m not going to use this post to share views on birthing in the modern world, but I will say this: there is a lot of fear surrounding birth today. A fear that has become buried deep in our psyches and needs to be un-learnt. Women need to be reminded of something which is actually hardwired into our bodies… our beings. Mother Nature knows what she is doing, and she is an absolute genius when it comes to the wonder of the female body and how it adapts to grow a baby inside of it, let alone what it does during birth and after the baby has arrived. So pregnant mamas, know this: YOU CAN AND YOU WILL. Your body is absolutely magnificent and it will not let you down. It will leave you in awe at what it is capable of. Mine certainly did!
Back to our story…
We hadn’t actually realised that it’s considered a bad thing when your waters break before contractions start. Neither of us was prepared for what followed… one of our lovely midwives visited us that Friday evening and apologised for having to be the ‘Angel of Doom’. All of our excitement slowly faded away as we were told about the risks of having Prelabour Spontaneous Rupture of Membranes (PSROM) and why if nothing happened within 24 hours I would have to come into hospital to be induced.
Here are some things we learned from said lovely midwife and our dear friend Kemi along the way on this twist of the journey:
- The 24 hour “time limit” (that is exactly what it felt like) is based on protocols from the hospital’s insurers and has very little to do with the health and safety of mother or baby;
- If I lived in a different postcode in the UK I may have a different time limit, on the other side of London for example expectant mamas who experience PSROM get 48 hours before they are asked to come into hospital to be induced;
- 10 years ago the NHS used to give women up to 5 days with leaking waters before they were asked to come into hospital to be induced;
- Evidence shows that it is safe to hold out up to 95 hours for a baby to be born from when waters break prematurely;
- Women have held out a lot longer and still delivered perfectly healthy happy babies!
Here’s a note to anyone who is currently going through a similar journey: there is no need for anyone to check whether your waters have broken by doing a vaginal exam. It is an invasive examination that could open the risk for infections. Keep an eye on your temperature and stay, as you have been, completely in tune to your baby. You will know if something is wrong because you are completely connected to that tiny being inside of you. Babies are so clever that they continue to produce the amniotic fluid they need while still inside the womb. So relax, and trust that the surges are coming. Rest, because when those waves do arrive you will need all your energy to ride them.
Unfortunately for me the stress and pressure of a 24 hour time limit really got to me. I didn’t get much sleep that night. There was an internal battle going on… one side of me willing my surges to start and the other reminding me to just wait patiently, that everything would happen when the time was right. I watched the clock like a ticking time bomb. I can’t tell you how huge of a challenge this was, and at such a critical time. Throughout my pregnancy we had done so much work in the preparation of this moment to undo the deep-seated fears that prevail today around giving birth. But this unexpected challenge really tested my strength and conviction. I trusted that baby was absolutely fine, and that my body would let me know otherwise, but I knew that I did not want to be induced. For those of you that don’t know, there are a lot of risks associated with induced labour and that was something I wanted to avoid at all costs, especially if it wasn’t actually necessary, but as a precaution. I knew that baby knows best. Truly, they do. Also, on a physiological level, that in order for labour to progress naturally, mamas need to be relaxed so that their bodies can begin releasing the oxytocin (also known as the love or happy hormone) which would send signals where they needed to be sent in the body letting them know that it’s time to bring baby out.
My father tells me I’m strong-headed… Seyi tells me that in Yoruba, head and Soul are the same word (Ori) so in fact I am strong-Soul-ed. I much prefer that! And strong-willed I was. I held my ground, dug my feet in, and refused to go into hospital for a check up the next day. I felt baby moving as usual and I was in perfect health, no signs of infection or fever so we believed it was the right decision to stay in the comfort of our home and allow nature to continue taking it’s course.
:: Saturday ::
Fortunately for me, the home birth team were quite busy with other mamas popping out babies on Saturday so nobody paid me a visit. There were a few phone calls trying to persuade me to come into hospital (I’ll refrain from NHS bashing but there was a good amount of scaremongering). I resisted and explained that as I felt completely fine, I would like to give things until the next morning to see how the labour had progressed. Although contractions had not started, I had had my “show” and I was feeling things…twinges… I knew things were progressing at exactly the pace baby needed. A reassuring talk with Kemi gave me the courage and confidence to continue waiting for surges to start naturally.
I am blessed with an abundance of loving sisters, a couple of whom came to keep me company, and deliver a care package from my eldest sister, Tasha, including an amazing home made “labour cake” (almond and raspberry… Mmm). We ate chilli with every meal (this is pretty standard anyway so didn’t feel too unnatural) at the midwife’s suggestion and Mimi and I attempted some reflexology, until I had enough and decided that all I actually needed to do was RELAX and let baby just BE. We watched crappy tv shows to take my mind of things, and at one point Seyi and Mimi broke into a beautiful spontaneous jam session (on acoustic bass and ukele) which cheered me up immensely. Surround yourself with good people who trust the birthing process and enable you to feel entirely comfortable in your choices. I can’t tell you enough how important that is, during pregnancy and most especially during labour.
I didn’t get much sleep the next night either… but my mind was much more at ease, I knew baby would be coming soon. It was truly out of my hands. I focused on how incredible it would feel to finally meet my little one.
:: Sunday ::
At around 6am, the thing I had been patiently (and impatiently) willing to start finally began. And then I wished they hadn’t!! Wow… my surges packed a punch from the word go but I just took each one as they came. Breathing is definitely essential… I breathed my way through each and every surge… eyes closed, focused. I changed position a lot… from bouncing on an exercise ball which felt great in the early stages, to kneeling on the sofa, squatting, sitting on the loo… you name it, I tried it! Seyi was there with hugs and back rubs whenever I needed them. Hugging is incredibly powerful during labour. In fact anything that helps your body to continue releasing oxytocin is a must.
Seyi’s twin sister, Ayo, arrived mid morning – as a midwife she was our natural choice for a second birthing partner and I am so grateful she was here with us. She took me out for a walk around the block, which took almost 2 hours as I had to stop for each surge. I was inhaling a Clary Sage soaked tissue in between waves and giving thanks that labour had started naturally. Seyi asked Ayo repeatedly if it was time to fill the pool… he kept being told no, I wasn’t yet in active labour but it was ok for him to inflate it and get it ready.
Labour is the hardest thing I’ve ever done… made harder by the fact that I was extremely tired from two nights of no sleep and unnecessary worry. Each surge is different so you have no idea what to expect, but you just keep breathing and know that it will end … it has to! Surges are so immensely powerful, but I’ll tell you this, so is your body. I went so deep inside myself, working in synchronicity with my baby, focused, breathing, responding to each and every sensation as it came to me and then letting it go and resting before the next one.
A few hours later, I had thrown up the piece of toast I’d had in the morning, had a nice warm shower which felt amazing on my body and had spent two hours laying down trying to rest in between the surges, which by now were coming fast and furious. I was positively in the zone. But I was also exhausted! I can’t stress how important it is to rest in the build up to and early stages of giving birth.
Note: Staying hydrated is really important during birth but also keeping your energy levels up. Although I drank lots of water, I realised after giving birth that I had gone the whole day on a piece of dry toast and a mini twix (that Tasha had had the incredible foresight to send over in my labour care package!) Once baby was out I was totally famished and raided the fridge as soon as I could. My advice to all the expectant mothers reading this now, check out Mama Natural’s great list of her top ten essentials for a natural labour including energy boosting, healthy snacks, here.
I suddenly felt the need to pooh and Ayo got an excited twinkle in her eye as she knew this meant the time for baby to arrive was soon approaching. She said it was time to call the midwife who was in fact already on her way over just to check in. Ayo had full respect for my decision to have a home birth, and trusted the natural process, so she had delayed calling the midwife to reduce any unnecessary or too early examinations. She told me that she was waiting for “other Emma” to come out … the one that would scream and shout. Ayo knew women in labour and that is what they did. Ha! I calmly told her this was me at the peak of my threshold. It hurt like hell but I was riding the waves as calmly as possible and there would be no screaming… but that I’d be quite happy for the surges to end now please! Ayo gave me a couple of paracetamol (I think she felt sorry for me by this point!) but I really don’t think they were a match for the surges at all as I didn’t feel any difference… in hindsight I’d prefer to have not taken them at all, but it was all part of the process and I’m grateful for how everything played out.
My midwife arrived at around 2pm to check in on baby since it had now been 36 hours + since my waters had broken and she wanted to see how things were progressing (and continued to remind me that I should have come into hospital for some antibiotics in case there was something wrong). Her timing was perfect as I was starting to wane and told Seyi that I didn’t feel like I could take any more. I was exhausted and couldn’t face another surge, that maybe some gas & air would help. Seyi gave me a warm embrace and told me not to worry, this meant that baby was ready to come out because my body wouldn’t put me through more than it could handle. He was so confident, so sure, just as he had been throughout the whole experience, that baby would come when he or she was ready. And that time was now. I wished with all my might that he was right and allowed his calmness and certainty to soothe me.
A note here on taking antibiotics or changing your birth venue from home to hospital if you experience PSROM (loving helpful advice from Kemi when we needed it the most): there really is no need to take antibiotics in case the baby develops an infection. Once baby is born and gets a full check up they can give him or her any medication needed. Also a swift transfer can be arranged to transport you into hospital as and when it is needed, if at all. You may experience bumps along the way but stay on your path, remember all your preparation and focus on yourself and baby.
Seyi asked if he should fill the pool as he was quite sure baby was going to make an appearance soon. The midwife said she needed to examine me first but from the looks of things it’d still be a while… I seemed too calm and she knew women in active labour… they made a lot more noise than this… well, not all of them(!)
So we began the challenge of a vaginal examination… the midwife patiently waited to examine me, stopping and re-attempting a few times as surges kept interrupting us. When she finally got down to it she paused and said she couldn’t get the speculum in. In that moment genuine fear washed over me… what if she told tell me I was only 2cm dilated… I really and truly could not take much more… Instead, I heard the sweet words ringing in my ears: “I can see a full head of hair, you’re fully dilated, baby is coming now!”
The midwife turned to Seyi: “start filling the pool… quickly!” her words trailed down the hallway as Seyi had already run off to turn on the taps!
I totally forgot about the gas and air and started focusing all my energies on breathing baby downwards. The instructions for the pool said it would take 30-45 mins to fill… we hoped we would have enough time! The midwife repeated how she had wanted me to go into hospital to have antibiotics due my waters being broken prematurely but Orilami had other ideas and knew exactly where he wanted to be born. Since I was fully dilated they weren’t taking me anywhere, we would have the peaceful home birth we wished for after all.
Little did I know, the NHS also has a time limit for how long you’re allowed to be fully dilated before they want to yank the baby out of you. My midwives (by now there were two, one for me one for baby, as well as a student, and Ayo… talk about VIP treatment!) knew I wanted to breathe down baby with the natural rhythm of my body, but after some time and lot’s of hushed whispering I was told that if it took much longer they would have to get involved. What? But I was fully dilated… my baby was literally on it’s way out what other measures could possibly be necessary? Ayo quietly told me that if it was ok, I had better start pushing so that they wouldn’t have any other outlandish ideas about how they might “help” get the baby out (in hospital no less!) Didn’t have to tell me twice, I began pushing my ass off, almost quite literally.
Meanwhile, the pool that had taken forever and a day to fill was almost to the minimum line and I just hopped in before anyone had a chance to say the word “hospital” one more time. The warm water felt incredible and my tired muscles were able to take on various positions like squatting for a lot longer than on dry land. This is where regular yoga in the build up to labour became helpful. During pregnancy I discovered a lovely little YouTube series called Apple Yoga with five short pre-natal yoga sessions that were simple and felt good to my body. I got into a routine of doing one or two of them in the morning and found them a great way to stretch my body, connect with baby and build some muscle strength for labour. As with everything, there is no rule about how much or how often you need to do things to prepare for birth, just listen to your body and do what feels best in that moment — in fact this in itself is perfect practice for when surges do arrive.
So, there I finally was, in the birthing pool in our tiny studio flat with 3 midwives, one student and Seyi all around me. Curtains were drawn, candles lit, lavender oil burning, and relaxing music playing. It was perfect. Orilami is a baby of the water and I guess he just didn’t want to come out until I got into that pool. A lot of pushing later, at around 6pm, Seyi held onto me from behind as he sang a song to let baby know it was time to meet us, and not long after, watched Orilami swim into the world. It was perfect, for us. Just as each and every baby is completely unique, so too is their birthing journey. We really cannot predict what will happen in the moment but we can certainly prepare ourselves and trust that the best thing for us (mama and baby) will surely happen if we just allow it to.
I had laboured for 12 hours from my first surge to when baby finally appeared. I had no tears and no bleeding. I credit that with the arnica I had taken earlier on when surges began as well as sheer good luck and the preparation we had done. Ladies, do the perineum massage. In fact, I urge your partners to help you with this in the weeks preceding labour, it truly can make all the difference in the ‘ring of fire’ moment when you need to get your baby’s head out.
In fact, birthing partners are incredibly important. I could not have achieved the birth I did without Seyi and Ayo, they were both complete pillars of strength and support. Choose your birth partner(s) wisely. Think about what they will bring to the process, and above all, ensure they will support all of your choices. Also significant is where you choose to birth your baby. In the end, baby will decide where he or she wants to be born, all you need to is listen to that intuition when it comes to you. I am so grateful Orilami was born in the peaceful environment that is our home. It may be small but it is full to the brim with positive energy and love.
On a recent trip to Lagos I remember discussing giving birth with Mama Vali, a woman I have deep and profound respect for. She told me she gave birth to her four babies at home and when I told her that Orilami had a home birth she shook my hand and patted me on the back with pride. Besides home birth feeling like a badge of honour with Mama Vali, I mainly felt so grateful to be able to have a shared experience with somebody I admire so much, yet whose life is so different from my own. The room where Mama Vali and her family live is smaller than our “tiny” flat, and she shares a bathroom with more than ten other families (who are also living in one room each). For Mama Vali, there was no birthing pool, no candles, no hypnobirthing book to study, no calming music playing. She chose to give birth at home because for her it was a lot cheaper than going into hospital. Also, I believe, because she hadn’t had fear drilled into her around giving birth. Giving birth in Nigeria is very much a normal part of life, so why not do it in your own home?
I delivered my placenta naturally – by pushing it out with one minute to spare before they wanted to inject me (once again, there is a time limit for how long you’re allowed before they force your placenta out of you!)
My midwives thanked me for giving their student such a positive first home birthing experience. One of them even told me that said she hopes she can give birth like this when the time comes for her to have a baby. Ayo told us it was the most beautiful birth she had ever witnessed. I did it. No medical interventions needed. No fear.
Birth is beautiful. The female body is incredible and I bow down to it in all its powerful glory. Midwives (and doulas) are super-humans and I have an incredible amount of respect for them.
Pregnant mamas – whatever birth you wish for yourself and your baby – you can achieve it, and you will.